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UK Theater Marks Significant Milestone for Viñoly

October 29, 2008

By Tim McKeough

Rafael Viñoly Architects, founded in New York in 1983, has completed its first project in the UK: Curve, a 140,000-square-foot theater in Leicester, England. The $102 million project is part of an initiative to make an arts district out of a once rundown area that was home to “strip clubs and bars you didn’t want to go into,” explains John Drew, director of RVA’s London office, which opened in 2001.

Curve, a theater in Leicester
Image © Will Pryce/courtesy RVA
Curve, a theater in Leicester, is Rafael Viñoly Architects first completed project in the United Kingdom.
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As the name suggests, Curve features a large curved glass façade—covered with metal louvers to mitigate solar gain—that offers transparency between the theater and the street. The overall design concept was to create an “inside out” theater, where all of the inner-workings of the theater are put on public view, says Drew.

Inside, two enclosed auditoriums—a 750-seat theater and a 350-seat black box theater—are situated on opposite sides of a single main stage, which can be divided by partitions. “The acoustics are such that you could have a rock concert on one side and Shakespeare on the other,” says Drew, adding that you also could raise the partition and “do theater in the round.”

The walls on the sides of the stage also can be raised, giving people outside the building an opportunity to peer in and watch the performers. Meanwhile, practice rooms and workshops for sets and props are also largely visible. “It takes all of those secret bits from the back of the theater,” says Drew, “and opens them up so that people can understand the business of theater.”

The 55 employees in RVA’s London office work primarily on European projects, but until now, they had yet to complete a project in the UK. Curve is the first of many significant projects now under way in the country, including the Battersea Power Station master plan, a sculptural tower at 20 Fenchurch Street in London, and the firstsite:newsite visual arts facility in Colchester. The firm also is designing two projects for the University of Oxford: a master plan for the Radcliffe Infirmary and a new building for the Mathematical Institute.

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